E251: Denise Fenzi - "FDSA in 2022"

In this episode I catch up with FDSA founder Denise Fenzi and share a bit about what's happening behind the scenes at the school and what folks should keep an eye out for next year. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I have Denise Fenzi back to talk about what's coming up at FDSA in the year ahead.

Hi Denise, welcome back to the podcast.

Denise Fenzi: Hey Melissa, how are you?

Melissa Breau: Good. Excited to catch up today. It's been a little while.

Denise Fenzi: It has, it has.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to share a little about you, a little about the pups, what you're doing with them?

Denise Fenzi: I have a new puppy here named Zen. He's not mine, but he's here and he's a lot of fun. So a really different direction, a different kind of puppy, which is awesome. I think dogs come in billions of great variations, and he's another great variation.

And then I've got baby Brito here, who your listeners — or our listeners, I guess — can't see, but he's sitting up on my lap, enjoying this quality time with a nice massage. And Miss Lyra is hanging out here somewhere as well. So I think we're all doing pretty good.

Melissa Breau: Good stuff. I want to start out with the bad news and lead into the good news, I guess. You mentioned on the FDSA alumni list recently that FDSA made the hard decision to cancel training camp again for 2022. Is that right?

Denise Fenzi: Yes, and it was a very hard decision, a very painful decision. You were a part of that, Teri was a part of that, Amy. We put out a survey to our students, asking them what their plans were for camp, and a lot of people did make comments. We encourage that, we want those comments, and I think that underlying sense of people feeling so uncertain about the world right now and where are we going, and what is safe, and what will be safe in two months, and what might happen in six months.

I think every single human being I know is so tired of living our lives around this uncontrollable pandemic, which seems to have no end in sight. I have to assume that someday we will learn how to live with it and we'll have, I don't know, protocols in place. We'll have ideas and thoughts. I don't know how it's going to look. I'm super-curious to look back in five years. But for now, the decision we made for many reasons, not the least of which is that we want people to be happy at camp.

The thing I kept going back to, I remember in these conversations, was camp is as much about hugging people, being close to people — well, I'm not a hugger, but some people are — but being within reaching distance of people, being able to touch someone on the sleeve. Losing that strikes me as a really, really big loss. Camp is so much more than education or hands-on. It's meant to be a much richer experience, and the loss of that, plus the overall uncertainty that the students were expressing about what they would need to feel safe — it took us to that final decision.

Melissa Breau: That makes sense. But I know there's been some talk recently, some things behind the scenes, of alternate options. What's in the works?

Denise Fenzi: That's of course the first thing we were thinking about, and the answer is I don't know. I haven't traveled in years, at all. I haven't traveled for myself, I stopped doing seminars many years ago, and the only time I was traveling was for conferences, so this would have been an example. So I think I'll make an exception. At the very least, I will travel to teach, with a focus on FDSA students.

There's a couple of ways that might go. We do both boot camps and mini camps at FDSA. A boot camp is a preset syllabus and outline that involves students listening to lectures beforehand. They have several hours of lecture that is part of their purchase, and then, when we get together in the boot camp environment — I think the last time we did it was me and Deb; it was just the two of us did it together for two days — very heavy on hands-on. The reason that works is because people have the lecture up front, so they knew what we were going to do when we got there, and that was a lot of fun. We did one boot camp and then the world fell apart, but we had many others scheduled and we had to cancel them all.

The second option is a mini camp, and that might be me and a couple of other instructors going somewhere and having a much smaller event. Rather than hundreds of students, you have fifty to seventy-five or eighty, maybe. That's a little bit safer and more doable. So those are the things that are on the table right now as possibilities.

Melissa Breau: Those are a little more flexible in terms of dates and when and what.

Denise Fenzi: Absolutely. Camp is a big deal. Organizing camp with many activities happening at the same time, there's very complex financial arrangements with hotel rooms, and the rooms that we use, and restaurants and caterers. It's a whole 'nother level of complexity that we can get around.

Melissa Breau: Do we have plans for 2023?

Denise Fenzi: We plan on doing camp in Oregon — back to Albany again. Hopefully this one is going to come through for us.

Melissa Breau: Even though we've cancelled training camp, the Lemonade Conference is still on. We're doing that in February and I know we planned some new things this year, so I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that. Can you share a little bit about the new workshops option?

Denise Fenzi: We're going to try something new. This time I am teaching precision heeling. What I will do, instead of going straight through for an hour and a half, or however long the presentation is, I will present for, let's say, 45 minutes, and I will provide very specific steps for people to try out, and then we'll have a break.

During that break, people will go and do the steps that I gave you. They will have the information in advance, so that if they get confused or muddled, they can just go look at the presentation or the notes that they already have, because those will be released in the morning, and they can follow along, and then they can come back if they get stuck.

There would be two ways to do that. One is during that half-hour break I will still be there. I'll still be answering questions or chatting with people. Frankly, leave me alone for any period of time and I can find plenty to talk about. So something will happen during that time. And then, when the time is up and people come back, they can talk about what their experiences were: did they get stuck, how did it go, and we can do some problem solving.

We'd like to try to get people a little more involved and see what happens with that. That's going to be our new adventure this year, and if it goes well, then I would imagine we will expand it in future years.

Melissa Breau: You're doing that … I'm trying to remember who else is doing those, and I don't have it in front of me. I'll have to look it up while you answer my next question. Then I can talk about it a little bit more. Sara Brueske is doing one of them, and I'm trying to remember who else is doing them, but I can't off the top of my head. But I can pull it up while you talk a little bit more about how you're going to approach it.

You mentioned you're covering precision heeling. Can you share a little more about what about precision heeling you're sharing and how attendees should prepare, what they should have with them for the session?

Denise Fenzi: The good news is it really will start at ground zero, so if you have absolutely no heeling whatsoever, you will benefit from it, and if you have a lot of heeling, you will benefit from it, because I'm a pretty big fan of foundation skills and pivots.

To me, excellent heeling all comes down to left and right on a space. If you can turn left and your dog can stay in position, and if you can turn right and your dog can stay in position, then most dogs don't have that much trouble with the straight lines in between. So the emphasis has to be on the corners, and that's where I start the training process.

I'm super-systematic about, "Step one, can you get a cookie in the dog's mouth?" That sounds simple, but when you do it my way, you'll discover it's not so simple. And can you start doing that as you stand next to your dog? Those first two steps will take a lot of people more time than you might expect. And then starting to tweak. Do you like that head position?

In my mind, if a person did nothing more than what I will teach you that first four to six steps — I'm not even sure how many I put in there — really emphasize that, you will be so far ahead of the game, no matter how you decide to teach heeling, how you decide to finish it out.

That's my plan, and that's why I picked precision heeling as my topic, because I've taught it this way several times and I know it's effective, and I know that it goes well in an online environment, and I know that people can fit it in no matter how they already teach it. So that was my decision this time. Who knows. If we do this again next year, I'll have to come up with a new topic that's equally amenable to be broken into small bits.

Melissa Breau: It looks like Amy is also going to do a workshop, Amy Cook, on her Play Way stuff, and we also have Sara Brueske doing a workshop on happy holds, working on holds. So they should be good. I looked it up. TLC isn't the only thing that's been happening at FDSA lately. Can you share a little bit about the other stuff that's in the works behind the scenes?

Denise Fenzi: We actually have a really big thing coming up. Our website is almost ten years old now, and it's built on a Joomla frame, but it's extremely heavy on customization. That is not only because of how it was designed in the first place, but because we keep growing. We just started out with classes, and then it became classes and then webinars, and then we added workshops, and then we added self-study and pet programs.

There's just more and more shows up, and that means we have more random things bolted on, and that starts to be very hard on your system. Then, when you try to add or change one thing, you inadvertently break other things. We got to the point where our tech company said, "You're hitting a do or die here, and we can't just keep doing this. It's time to step back and make some decisions."

So that is what we are in the process of doing. We're working with fantastic people. I can't tell you how excited I am about our team. They include various specialties and they all work together. The goal is to have an extremely well-integrated design/technical/marketing-platform interface so that all the pieces make sense.

I have told everybody over and over that the most important thing to me is that it be clean, easy to navigate, that a current student can come in and in a minimal number of clicks get from here to there without being confused, without so many bright lights and shiny objects that people can't do what they're on the website to do. We want a super-functional, friendly design and underlying technology base that will make this make sense.

As a non-tech person, I learned the hard way over the last many years what technology is. I can't count how many times people have said things to us like, "Why can't we have a way to mark the classes we want and be notified when they come back up on the schedule? I think that would be a great thing to have," or "Why can't we have a shopping cart? I think that would be a great thing to have."

It's not that we don't agree, and it's not that we don't think those are great things to have, but what sounds like "Why don't you just?" is not "Why don't you just?" We don't have it because it would break our entire system.

That's the kind of thing that eventually you run yourself into a wall and you say, "Those would be wonderful things to have, and we would like to have those things."

And so we are pretty hardcore now in the center of the process of trying to design a really great platform, and working with experienced people who are very familiar with learning management systems, by coincidence very familiar with the dog-training space because at least one of our people is a pretty heavy FDSA user already, so she understands exactly where we're going. I'm actually very excited about it now. Three months ago I was terrorized because I just see broken bits, I just see struggle, I just see sleepless nights. But now I actually am excited about it, and I think our team is going to pull something together which is fantastic and that the students will love.

Melissa Breau: Cool. I'm excited to see what everybody comes up with and how it all turns out and works out. When are students likely to start seeing trickles and bits of that become available or impact things that they see on a day-to-day basis?

Denise Fenzi: That's a great question. I would say not earlier than June. You might see some minor changes to email, things like that. Email programs might change. But the actual working website — I would be amazed if it was before June.

And then, for anybody who's ever worked on building or technology, you know, just like if you say your house is going to be ready in June, everybody knows you should add 50 percent. So between now and June, that would bring more like September. Somewhere in June to September we might start showing you stuff.

There's also, I'm sure, going to be periods in between now and then when we might ask for some "We're looking at this, what are your thoughts on that?" So we might be looking for some feedback at various points, but we're not quite there yet.

Melissa Breau: One last thing I want to talk about before I let you go, and that is FDSA is doing some free stuff for the holidays. We're giving away some free things. Do you care to spill the beans and share a little bit about what it is we're giving away?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, we have a couple of gifts. The first one is a free webinar, and it's very timely because its' about goal setting and planning. This is as good a time as any for you to do some goal setting and planning for 2022. It will be a panel discussion with Megan Foster and Petra Ford and Sharon Carroll.

Some of you may not know this, but Sharon Carroll is an Olympic-level coach, so quite qualified for this. Petra Ford is a national champion in obedience, so qualified for this. And Megan Foster is a long-time coach and judge, etcetera, so well qualified to talk about it.

This is a fantastic group of people, so feel free to sign up for the free webinar. We'd love to have you. It's a great introduction to the school. And for sure share that with your friends who may not be familiar with FDSA, because free is a nice way to start.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And they sign up for that on the webinar page, just so folks know. If you go to the normal webinar page, at the bottom there's a link to go sign up, and then you will be able to give us your email address and get notified with the link.

And then there's a number two. What's our number two, Denise, our gift?

Denise Fenzi: A few months ago we offered a webinar on accessibility in dog training. People could buy that, but we decided to purchase the recording from Atlas, who made it for us, and we're just going to make that available for anyone who wants to use it, because there's quite a lot in there for people who are professional dog trainers who might be offering either in-person classes or online classes.

There might be little details you haven't thought about that might make people feel more comfortable in your classes. So if you want to explore your options, you might find some things in there that you didn't think about, or that are really pretty straightforward, or that you think might make a significant difference in your ability to help people out.

That will be free, and that will be on the Pet Dog Training Online link from the main Fenzi Dog Sports Academy page. You go to Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, select Pet Dog Training Online, and from there, there's a link for free resources, which has all kinds of stuff that we've put up over time, and you will find that video there.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Good stuff. I hope some folks enjoy those things. It gives you something to watch or listen to or check out over the holidays, since we're taking a break from webinars this week, and then we'll have the free one next week. It will be December 30 at 6 p.m. Pacific time, which for those of you on the East Coast with me, it's 9 p.m. Eastern.

With that, Denise, thank you so much for coming last-minute here and chatting about some of this stuff with me, wrap up the end of the year. It's good stuff.

Denise Fenzi: So excited to see what comes. Each year is bigger and better and more interesting, and there's always new stuff showing up. So let's see what happens this time around.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with Erin Lynes to talk about living and loving our older furry friends.

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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